On (not) keeping religion out of politics

F4F 2015 miniFreedom of religion vs. freedom of worship: what’s the difference? If one’s respect for life is grounded in faith in God, is that respect somehow inappropriate for the public square? Is freedom to bear public witness to one’s faith at risk? Perhaps the plaintiffs in New Hampshire’s buffer zone suit could offer some insight into those questions. For today, though, I look to someone with a national perspective.

I was in media row at a convention in 2013 when Eric Metaxas took the stage to polite applause. Fourteen minutes later, he finished to a standing ovation. His topic: the state of religious liberty in the United States. His speech bears re-hearing during this Fortnight for Freedom with the theme “freedom to bear witness.” (The video is from C-SPAN, taken at CPAC 2013. If it does not show up embedded in this post, click on the link below.)

http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4389195/eric-metaxas-cpac-2013

Among his many books, Metaxas has written about William Wilberforce (1759-1833), English politician and opponent of slavery. “It’s the story of what happened to things when a man drags religion into the public square and when he allows it to affect how government behaves. Result: the government was forced to abolish the slave trade.”

Check out Metaxas on Wilberforce; also “Courage, New Hampshire”

My life isn’t all politics; it just seems that way. I am a voracious reader living amid stacks of books. I love a good movie, preferably an oldie, although I’m open to discovering something fresh. Let me tell you about a couple of things I’ve enjoyed lately.

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cover of "Amazing Grace"New Hampshire’s Cornerstone Policy Research, a nonprofit group for which I’ve worked, gives its annual Wilberforce Award to someone in public office who has gone above & beyond to strengthen respect for life & family. William Wilberforce, after whom the award is named, was a British Member of Parliament who in the late 18th century became an abolitionist, fighting the African slave trade. I recently picked up a Wilberforce biography by Eric Metaxas, whom I wrote about after his stirring speech on religious liberty at CPAC this year. I’m now a fan of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (HarperOne, 2007, ISBN 9780061173882). Wilberforce was a persistent man, and ultimately a successful one after decades of work. Metaxas is thoroughly delighted by his subject, and in fact writes with so much enthusiasm that I want to tell him to relax. Wilberforce’s work would be just as impressive if it were described with cool detachment. Whatever the author’s tone, I recommend this book. Wilberforce’s story is powerful in itself, and I believe he carries lessons for all of us today who are working on the right to life, another supposedly “settled” issue.

Metaxas puts Wilberforce into the context of his time, a time in some ways not unlike our own. “The acutely Christian character of the British abolitionist movement is undeniable, for its leaders were all consciously acting out of the principles of their deeply held faith. For the pronounced enemies of abolition, however, the notion of human equality had no objective basis …”

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A friend recently treated me to a few episodes of a video series called “Courage, New Hampshire,” set in the western part of our state in the days just before the American Revolution. It took me about an episode & a half to get into it, but once it grabbed me, it grabbed me good. It’s drama, not a documentary, but there are plenty of facts behind the plot. Calling “Courage” a history lesson or a period drama doesn’t do the story justice. The story drew me in and left me with a sense of what it must have been like to live on the colonial frontier in those days. It’s easy to forget that none of the New England farmers in the early 1770s knew how revolution would end. The “Courage” in the title refers to the village in which most of the action takes place, and of course it also about one of the most valuable traits for an early American. Independently produced by Colony Bay Productions, it has been shown on KVCR in California, a PBS affiliate, and is soon to come to cable on the INSP Channel. Episodes are available for streaming beginning at $1.95 per episode. Check out colonybay.net for more information.